Mass Malmesbury prison escape: How they did it

By Shanice Naidoo Time of article published Jul 25, 2020

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The midday exercise routine took a dramatic turn at the Malmesbury Prison when 69 prisoners staged a daring prison break. The group, awaiting trial, overpowered guards, locked three of them in a cell and escaped through the main entrance at midday yesterday.

A search by police, sniffer dogs and private security resulted in the capture of 63 of the 69 men and, late last night, helicopters scoured the Swartland town for the remaining escapees, with Ralph Harris and Brendan Visagie being captured.

Yesterday’s incident was the second escape from the prison since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.

The men had been charged with crimes ranging from common assault, robbery with aggravating circumstances to housebreaking and possession of burglary tools.

Provincial Correctional Services commissioner Delekile Klaas said: “The escapees overpowered officials, took the keys and locked three of them in a cell and opened other cells before escaping through the main entrance and over the roof.”

During the commotion, nine officials sustained minor injuries and bruises. At the time, the centre had 451 offenders and 20 officials on duty. The group is believed to have hijacked a vehicle while some escaped on foot.

In a video on social media, the prisoners can be seen running across the road and bringing traffic to a standstill.

The SAPS released a statement saying stations in Malmesbury and neighbouring towns had joined the search.

“The search party comprising detectives on foot and in vehicles has already covered much ground with the re-arrest of several escapees,” said the SAPS.

Klaas confirmed: “As of now (late last night), six remand detainees are still at large and most of them come from the Vredenburg area.

The Department’s Emergency Support Team and the South African Police Service are working around the clock to arrest them.”

Klaas added that the department condemned the “reckless” action by the offenders and would make sure they were punished for their actions.

“The situation currently has been stabilised at the facility and the Emergency Support Team has been activated to monitor the situation. Furthermore, some of the problematic inmates have been transferred out of the facility to the maximum facilities in the region,” he said.

The centre is under lockdown in order to ensure stability.

“We want to assure communities that we will do everything in our power to apprehend the remaining escapees and would not do anything to put communities at risk,” added Klaas.

Meanwhile, the family of Zola Tongo, the convicted taxi driver in the Annie Dewani murder case, expressed disappointment that his scheduled parole release had been postponed.

Tongo had been set for release on parole on Tuesday after serving 10 years of his 18-year sentence for his part in the November 13, 2010 murder.

Tongo’s aunt Primrose Sigo said the family was unaware that the release date had changed but believed “if the Tongo family would speak to the Hindocha family and ask them for forgiveness, maybe things would be different”.

This week, during a webinar by the African Criminal Justice Reform programme at UWC, it emerged South Africa has the largest number of prisoners serving life sentences, an estimated 16 000, in the world.

Experts warned that imposing life sentences was by no means a deterrent for criminals.

Lukas Muntingh, project co-ordinator for Africa Criminal Justice Reform, said: “The notion that life imprisonment and long sentences will act as a deterrent is one worthy of very critical examination.”

Life sentences in South African prisons have become common and the country now has the highest annual increase in life prisoners.

Professor Dirk van Zyl Smit, head of the School of Law at Nottingham University and the co-author of the book,

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